Back to School with Husband

I promise to return to cooking school this week, but it was an unexpectedly joyful and momentous weekend in the Wise household. Fred is here to stay! His return happened a bit more quickly than I’d dared to hope, so suffice it to say we’re thrilled to be back together.

Of course, Fred’s arrival necessitated a festive meal involving some form of animal flesh, and I used the opportunity to implement Lesson 1 on mis-en-place. As Fred writes in his blog entry, I purchased his favorites: cheese, steak, and peanuts. We won’t quibble very much over his failure to list the maple pecan pie I made him from scratch, with a wonderful butter crust that actually managed to be flaky, but I am sure that our friends who will receive all the remaining pieces will be appreciative.

The ingredients from the meal came from Trader Joe’s in Chapel Hill, and the visit marked my first excursion to a Trader Joe’s. The store does not have the feel of luxury and glamour I get from other stores that offer $8 per pound bacon, but then again, I didn’t spend my Whole Paycheck there either. (In all fairness, I did see uncured bacon there that was actually more than $8 per pound, but the $6 bottle of actually drinkable cabernet sauvignon made up for it.)

But that’s really the subject of another entry. Trying to implement Lesson 1, I tucked my towel in my apron, as the professional chefs who commented last time recommended. I discovered, however, that my kitchen is just too tiny for this to matter. The reality is that the towel that hangs on the oven door and the one on the wall next to the “pantry” are always within easy reach. (I will download a photo to demonstrate as soon as I figure out how to do that with Fred’s new camera.) Other items, such as spoons and spatulas, are so handily located that all I need to do is make sure they’re clean and in place.

What was helpful, though, was thinking through how I was going to prepare and set out the meal, even though it was quite simple: an appetizer of bought olive bruschetta and crackers, two cheeses, and bought honey roasted peanuts; steak; a salad of baby greens with button mushrooms and Irish cheddar cheese; and the maple pecan pie. Typically, my technique is to dive in and beginning preparing one thing that will take a while, somehow hoping that I’ll have time to do everything else as the first item is going. But this time, I set out the ingredients and thought about the entire meal first. Here’s how it went.

Step 1: Make pie crust and refrigerate.
Step 2: While pie crust is chilling, set out appetizers, except cheese, on nice plates. Include spoon for nuts and knife for cutting cheese. Remove cheese from wrapper, set on board and cover with plastic wrap in refrigerator before serving. (The cheese would have been fine set out, except it would have ended up on the floor with suspiciously cat-shaped teeth marks covering the remains.)
Step 3: Salt and pepper steak and drizzle with Worcestshire sauce. (This is Fred’s favorite marinade.)
Step 4: Rinse mushrooms and set on paper towel to dry. Julia Child says you don’t have to rinse them, but I just can’t help it.
Step 5: Make dressing for salad with olive oil, spicy mustard, and balsamic vinegar.
Step 6: Grate cheese and store in refrigerator.
Step 7: Roll out pie crust, set in dish and flute edges, and refrigerate.
Step 8: Preheat oven for pie.
Step 9: Put pie ingredients into shell and bake pie. Take pie out of oven before you leave to pick up husband at the airport so pie will have time to set.
Step 10: Pick up ailing husband, who is suffering from a cold that has depleted his appetite, an hour later than planned. Arrive home at 10:00. Munch on appetizers and cut into pie that has not had time to set but is still good. Leave steak and salad for the next day and go to bed.

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